Courthouse to stay voting site in spite of controversy

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By Damon Lawrence

The Roane County Courthouse will remain an early voting location for the Nov. 6 election.
In August, the Roane County Election Commission directed Administrator of Elections Charles Holiway to send a letter to the state, requesting that the county be allowed to use Kingston Community Center instead of the courthouse.
Holiway said he recently became aware of a state law that would have made the move OK, but after checking with the community center, he decided that it was best for early voting to remain at the courthouse for the time being. 
“I went down and talked to the community center, and the community center is already booked up,” he said. “They would have to give me a room for 15 days that I could lock up and nobody could use, and they don’t have that this time.”
During early voting for the Aug. 2 election, then property assessor candidate David Morgan complained that then incumbent Teresa Kirkham was using her office at the courthouse to try and solicit votes. That prompted District Attorney General Russell Johnson to send election officials a letter, asking why early voting was conducted at the courthouse where the offices of elected officials are located.   
“Since we don’t have anybody running in the courthouse this time, we’re going to have the election here,” Holiway said. “However, in the future we will consider moving it to the community center. The community center said they could accommodate us as long as they knew in advance.”
During early voting, the booths are set up in the area of the courthouse where security officers are stationed.
In his letter, Johnson referenced a Tennessee law that he said prohibits police or other law enforcement officers from entering a polling place.
“By holding early voting in the foyer of the main entrance where the metal detectors, screening equipment and officers are located puts these officers in technical violation of the law,” Johnson said.
Holiway said election officials don’t plan to address that issue for the November election.
“Security has to be in the courthouse,” he said. “That issue we’ll just have to deal with this particular election as we have historically. It’s always been that way.”
Oct. 8 is the last day to register to vote for the Nov. 6 election. Early voting runs from Oct. 17 to Nov. 1.
In addition to the courthouse in Kingston, early voting will also be held at the Rockwood Community Center, Harriman Community Center and First Christian Church in Oak Ridge.